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Aussie Startups Carnival 2008, kicks off today. We would like to thank all our participants for the time and effort they have put in to make this happen. We are delighted to showcase our first participant Scouta.

Scouta, the name of the product and service, owned by Recommendation Ventures Pty Ltd, is a recommendation engine that is provided to retail, media, and content websites via a web service. It's added via javascript and can provide up to a 30% increase in sales or click-throughs.

Scout also has a public recommendation service for amateur-generated content like podcasts, video podcasts, and hosted videos (on sites like YouTube, Metacafe, etc.). It has an iTunes plug-in that will provide recommendations for content that is consumed on iPods, iPhones, and AppleTVs. That means a member of Scouta can listen to podcasts or watch videos on their iPod, and receive recommendations that match their interests or tastes.

Richard Giles and Graeme Sutherland founded the company. They started the company after meeting for a beer and pizza at Little Creatures in Fremantle, WA. They were bemoaning the fact that it was so hard to find personally relevant online audio and video and that
it was becoming increasingly harder. They decided to build a recommendation engine to help with the task. After building a scalable service, they realised that it could easily work for any online product, like television, video, music, food, news, etc.

We asked all our participants to share their thoughts on various aspects of their startup and this is what Richard has to say:

Q. How long it took before it was up and running?
A. From concept to launch it took about 18 months.

Q. What stage of your start-up is, stealth mode, beta mode or fully functional?
A. The recommendation service and public recommendation site are fully functional.

Q. What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
A. To provide great personally relevant recommendations to the world. Our main focus is to help online retail, media, and content sites add recommendations to their service quickly and easily.

Q. What services it provides for consumers or customers?
A. Scouta provides a recommendation web service for podcasts, video podcasts, and hosted videos.

Q. What is unique about your venture?
A. We provide online retail, media, and content companies with an easy way to add recommendations to their sites via a web service. It provides several types of recommendations: similar items, other people liked these, and recommendations-based behavior (such as purchases, viewing, etc.).

Our public site also provides personally relevant recommendations for over half a million podcasts and videos, and can do this based on what people consume via iTunes-based devices like the iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV.

Q. What market segment verticals you are targeting?
A. Online retail, media and content sites.

Q. What type of customers you are targeting?
A. Companies with a large catalogue of content or products that want to increase sales, and increase return visits, customer satisfaction, length of sessions, and greater site interaction.

Q. What age group of people will benefit most?
A. Any age group will benefit from personal recommendations.

Q. How many users are using your services?
A. We are currently trialling our recommendation engine web service with several Australian websites that will be announced soon. We also have over a thousand members of our public Scouta site, who are using it for podcasts and videos.

Q. What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
A. Currently we are calling CEOs and CTOs personally to talk about the advantages that we can bring to their service.

Q. How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
A. When we add the recommendation engine to a site, we work with the owner of the site to monitor the metrics they normally use to measure their site's success. We also have basic reports that can show the number of recommendations being added to the site.

Q. What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
A. We currently have a monthly subscription fee to use the recommendation
engine. Scouta's public site is free.

Q. Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
A. several companies are offering a recommendation engine, but most require the customer to install their software on their own service. Scouta provides a way to quickly and easily get started, with no new infrastructure required. We also allow for a high degree of customisation and work closely with the customer to ensure as much potential as possible.

On the technology front – we asked a few questions
Q. What are the main technologies used behind this start-up.
A. Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, Python, Pylons

Q. What has been the easiest to use, out of the box and helpful technology?
A. There are a few technologies that made life really easy:
  • The Internet ;).
  • TurboGears and Pylons, because they gave us a framework that made it quick to produce and launch Scouta. TG was used for the social website, and Pylons is now being used as the framework for the Scouta Recommendation Engine web service.
  • We also use a range of tools which means it's easy to collaborate between the Scouta team, including Google Docs, Campfire, Subversion and Skype, all of which make it easy for our team to work on Scouta even when we've been spread across the globe.
Q. Are you using a lot of open-source tool sets for this?
A. Yes. (Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, Python, Pylons)

Q. How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up. Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
A. No, we don't have many offering this even in the world.

Q. How much money is needed upfront to start a venture?
A. This depends on your skill sets. If you have a great coder, then it may not cost much at all. The skills required initially are coding, design, UI, marketing, sales, and leadership. However, it's also possible to wing some of it. After all, it's a startup :)

Q. What are the main barriers in general for people to start their venture in Australia?
  • Lack of business knowledge about the Internet leads to an education process when trying to raise funding.
  • Remote location, which leads to difficulty in marketing the venture face-to-face with other influential people.
  • Lack of Venture Capital funding.
  • Lack of skills when compared to places like Silicon Valley.
Q. What are your thoughts on the future trends of your service and the market segment you are in?
A. Internet use will continue to grow, as will the number of purchases and its use for media and content, e.g.: increased use for video, news, etc. With such a large selection available it is becoming increasingly important for companies to offer personalised ways to discover relevant items. Recommendations are a proven method of achieving this.

Q. Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
A. Have a clear plan, and just do it. The biggest difference between success and failure is taking action.

Thanks, Richard for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Scouta. All the best for Scouta and the competition in this carnival.


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